Monday, July 29, 2013

If Zen Feels Right

What is Zen? This question is as vast as ten oceans with ten directions, but it starts and ends with exactly where you are. You can arrive by breathing.
If you'd like to practice Zen, turn the lights down. If you can sit in full lotus, do it, if not, half-lotus, if not that, then burmese, if not that on your knees. In all of these seats, put a cushion directly under your sit bones, lifting your pelvis above your knees; this is critical. If you can't sit in these positions, get a chair and slide to the edge of it. Firmly plant your feet. If you're on the cushion, firmly plant your knees. Make sure your spine is relaxed, but straight. This is critical. Press the sky with your head, stretch the backbone. Let your eyelids relax, but keep the eyes open, lest you invite dreams and nightmares. Gaze softly downward, a few feet in front of you. Relax the face, like a baby's face. Relax the shoulders and rest your hands on your knees, or place them in the universal mudra, like holding an fragile egg. Now breath.
Start with a quick inhalation, fill the lungs, and let the breath out slowly, feel it rise from below your belly, extend it as long as you can maybe thirty seconds. Repeat. Do this to settle
Now let the long breaths be long and short breaths be short. If you get lost, or scared, or irritated, go back to quick inhalation, long exhalation. When thoughts arise, ask "What is this?" and answer with "What is this?"
This is just what I do today. I've done many other things. Zen is successfully elusive every time, please encourage it to be so. Since you asked what is Zen, that's good enough, it's maybe the best it will get. Find a teacher, find some dharma friends, if this feels right.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

To Hoe Is To Be Human

GGF Farm Crew 2013

To say something about hoeing:

attitude of completion
rhythem and pace
give the plants a little a massage
Wield the hoe as precisley as a sword
turn up the dark dirt so it looks done
stick together, stand up straight, wipe the mirror clean
be a giant helping little soldiers
it's about taking life and giving life
it's about doing it and then the next thing

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Zen Prayer, Faith, Magic and Cosmic Bodhisattvas

I see Manjushri smile when I stay in the zendo during kinhin, instead of sneaking to my room for a sip of coffee. Jizo shakes his shakujo to ward off ghosts, mountain lions, and , my biggest fear, skunks on my dark fog ridden walk to make tea for the abbess in the morning. Ida Sonten stands straight and armored, his eye on the horizon for anyone who might disrupt our way seeking.

Yup, I'm one of those Buddhists, who's chanting like "that" because I think it might help.

Help what? The situation of course! Zen Master Baoche does fan himself, does he not?

I sit because we're Buddha and that's what Buddha's do, even if they don't need to, but because it's a magnet for suffering beings who might benefit from the illusion.

I follow the precepts because they're heavenly all by themselves. When I follow them they help me and all beings equally. Mostly, they save you from me.

On the Reddit Zen forum, I seem to be a minority. Those guys are salty in the not-Zen school, quick to sense a gaining mind or a reification of self or a substantialization of enlightenment. I'm with them on that, too- I don't think prayer, belief, magic, or cosmic Bodhisattvas, hidden in their sambogakaya bodies, are "zen." Of course not. Not even zen is zen. Not even my hands under the dirt searching for potatoes are zen.

Practicing like this may look like searching for the eternal ice cream like a good boy. But what if you like being a good boy and you love ice cream so much you don't even care if it's eternal? Ice cream is ice cream and I look good in a boy scout uniform.

So here I am in this phenomenal expression of a human who prays each morning during the nine prostrations, Please Manjushri help me cut off delusion, please Samanthabhadra help me respond appropriately, please Avalokitsvara help me practice compassion.

And this phenomenal expression is an illusion, as good as the phenomenal expression of "secular" or "Zen" (the "true" kind), or "Jesuit." All these horses are running in place!

So, I'm silly. What could go wrong? I think to change this late in the game might be too challenging; I'm starting to get familiar with this phenomenal expression. It's starting to slow down so I can get a good look. Might as well amp up the delusion. Dogen excused a monk eating meat to feed the demons that climbed all over him. Metta practice comes from monks who were terrified of ghosts and tigers.

What else is the self for if not risk?

Through dreams come faith and direction. One time, I was running from gunshots in New Orleans. I ran to the top of a building. The gunshots came closer and I heard bullets tearing through flesh. I opened the window; a screen! I thrust my finger through it and tore it open, jumped, but fell into another room. Calmer now, I opened another window, took out the screen, and gently dropped about thirty feet into a backyard garden. I hid under giant tropic elephant ears, just like the ones that grew at my dad's house before the storm. I heard a baby and saw a beautiful woman in a white dress holding her. I climbed out, the baby vanished and the woman had become old and looked like someone from Green Gluch, just gray hair and a hooded sweatshirt. She told me she was a street Bodhisattva. I said like, Guan Yin? and she said, yes, I'm Kannon. I followed her into her house. She turned into an older black man smoking a cigarette, and finally a little black girl dressed for school with a pink backpack, the smoke from the mans cigarette still swirling behind her glasses. She showed me to the front door and stapled to it was a "Street Bodhisattva" flyer with little phone number tabs you could take. I took one and walked toward the bridge. I turned around and saw her home: a huge four story house wrapped with black garbage bags that billowed in the wind, a purple haze New Orleans sunset in the background.

I don't have a phone, so I pray.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Zen training: What it is and what it isn't

I've heard it all: Theres no true Zen in America, institutions ruin Zen, priests ruin Zen, There's true Zen at Antaiji, Hermit Zen is where it's at, T-shirt and jeans Zen is enough, just sitting is enough, just reading is enough, just looking at what the Old Men of Zen "said" is enough, robes aren't Zen, sitting isn't Zen, Zazen isn't Zen, Zen in Japan is dead, Zen never existed in India, Zen was invented in China, there are no Zen teachers in china, that teacher is not a true Zen teacher, this lineage is a true Zen lineage, that's not real Zen because you all marry, there is a lot of Zen online, this is real zen from a real awakened teacher, there is no such thing as zen, and that, that is definitely not zen. And ya mama, she ain't Zen.

All of that ribbin' makes me want to take a nap! But it also inspires me to look up during a ceremony; is this Zen we're droning on about through the Dai Hi Shin Darani? Are these black robes helping me? How many stiches did I really put in this blue rakusu? How did I end up memorizing all these chants? Does it really matter if the spoon or the chopsticks come out first? Who the hell are the 7 Buddhas before Buddha? What and where is the warm hand of my teacher and the wordless transmission? As I sit on the tan and rest my eyes where the wood meets the plaster wall, what is zazen?

Everyday the temple comes to life. I put my robes on in the pitch black of 3am (my partner is sleeping). I drink green tea so my eyes stop twitching. I look at the Lankavatara. I make tea for the abbess. I go into the Zendo. I sit, chant, and do soji. Eat breakfast. Go to work on the farm. Eat lunch. Go to work. Go to Zazen (if I don't pass out or work overtime). Go to dinner. Go to class or a dharma talk. Go to bed around 9.

So, I guess that's one way to train.

Another way might be to wake up at 5, drink coffee, go into the Zendo, chant, ride your bike to work, teach kids all day, ride home, sit at 5, eat dinner, talk on the phone with your teacher, watch a movie, go to bed.

Another way might be to find a book, like Thich Nhat Hanh's The Sun My Heart read it, fold your legs into a full lotus, miss the point about the ol' zafu under your bottom, and let your knees butterfly up in the air, fold in on yourself in grueling pain, find another book, throw The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way down, find another book, try and connect to people online, find another book, and another, and another...

Another way might be to pick up Pema Chodron's Things Fall Apart, meet with clients and listen to their lives, go to your closed therapists only sitting group (because your town is small and you don't want to run into your clients) listen to dharma talks while walking around the park or lying in the bathtub.

Another way might be to go to Antaiji, start training with the Tenzo, fall in love with the place, have a pressure cooker explode, knock you out, melt your chest, and flee Japan and the 10,000 dollar medical bills, never to return again unless you want to pay 10,000.

Another way might to do small construction jobs which allows you to sit in the morning and in the night, study when you want to, and host a sitting group once a week.

Another way might be to chop wood, one day hear the diamond sutra recited and become awakened on the spot.

Some of these examples are me. Some are friends. All are real people with a practice. Real people eeking out a practice in a world full of Ipods, X-boxes, bars, careers- a dusty, dusty world.

Usually a teacher is suggested. I like the term "dangerous friend." A teacher is someone who faces the Buddha and invites you join her. This is good if you're really interested in the warm hand to warm hand, more watching less talking style.

Usually a Sangha is suggested. At the end of my day, my practice is sometimes for me but most of the time for the sister or brother to my right or my left. We carry the schedule, we carry the head and face of our Buddha ancestors. Simultaneously, our practice is for the One who is not busy.

Usually Dharma is suggested. These could be the teachings or they could be whatever helps build confidence to take the Buddha's seat. I like what Ikkyu says: "Only one koan matters: you."

Some people think sitting is required. I think trying to see forms and hear sounds, fully engaging body and mind, is required. But sitting? I love it! My partner, not so much. Our farm elder, a resident of 40 some years, harvests lettuce as a practice. I also think running is a nice practice. Tea is a nice practice. Walking is zen, sitting is zen.

Zen training is a sincere wish! You can't go wrong. Even Angulimala took refuge from the rain of blood. Home leaver or house holder, we renounce equally. Even if it seems like we're ruining our lives, don't worry, we're not that powerful. Even if you kill yourself, you can't kill Buddha.

Zen training is an expression, just complete this moment!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Can A Man Be A Feminist?

Recently, I commented on one of my favorite blogs, The Feminist Current, which is a pithy and sharp and feminist critique of feminism. Meghan Murphy the main writer is radical while remaining in touch with reality. For example, she once blogged about a club she sometimes visits with her friends and the pictures of objectification that resulted, which everyone seemed to put on their facebook which reifies male-gazing, etc. To the contrary, she admits that sometimes she goes out and has fun, dresses they way she wants, but there's a line crossed when these nights are immortalized through pictures and the internet and substantiates the status quo. I also really liked when she said just because you're a feminist and like Game of Thrones doesn't make Game of Thrones feminist. 

I mistakenly called myself a feminist on Feminism, Writing, and Doing Womanhood Wrong. I say it was a mistake, because really, we're not anything- Buddhist, Feminist, Anarchist. And as soon as we say something like that, we make a binary, and you set yourself up to be logically dismantled. 

Has anyone ever dismantled you? It hurts!

I wrote too conversationally on her post. I was feeling a very light hearted and very friendly, and I over shared and got was coming- someone wanted to tear me down. A commenter said this:

"Men shouldn’t call themselves feminists. In fact, when you really think about it, they can’t be. Feminism doesn’t fundamentally change a man’s mindset and worldview as it does a woman’s because he simply cannot grasp what it is like to be a woman. If you cannot think about and analyse the world through a female-centered perspective, not only are you unable to fully understand and support the views, experiences, and goals of women, you also cannot possibly have anything of value to contribute to feminism. And that’s why men who invade feminist spaces constantly speak over and silence women, and insult those women they disagree with. Just wait until you see a man trying to call out a woman on her “internalised misogyny,” real or imagined, so that he can be lauded as a ~brave and enlightened~ hero of feminism. I’ve heard it said that men’s reactions to being told that they can’t be feminists justifies their exclusion from both the label and the movement."

Meghan Murphy went on to say this:

"They don’t call themselves feminists. I call them feminist when I talk about them. If my male friends called themselves feminists I would think they were douchebags and definitely not feminist. Actual feminist men don’t go around identifying as feminist — it’s about showing not telling, as far as I’m concerned — though I’m ok with them calling themselves ‘allies’ or whatever…"

What's great about being eviscerated in a comment section is you vow to never be nasty again. I've been critical of a lot on this blog and other blogs, but I've only had my feelings hurt a couple of times. However, on this gutting, my feelings are more than hurt, I feel undermined, dis empowered, othered, and born to lose. Although I was not called directly an invader, a douchebag, and unable to contribute ANYTHING to feminism, it's implied directly in a passive aggressive sting. What's wrong with passive aggressive implications is that they lack the Adrenalin/endorphin rush, which helps you stand under the onslaught of an aggressive-aggressive attack, but includes all of the pain. 

And I disagree. I'm not feminist to  "analyse the world through a female-centered perspective" but to challenge patriarchy. Can I challenge patriarchy? Everyday. Do I need to? YES! Why is it important to me as a man? Because as bodhisattvas we vow to end greed, hate, and delusion. At the top of this is patriarchy, then capitalism, then ecocide. I don't need to be lauded as a brave and enlightened hero among feminists. I need freedom from the sensation of being alive and having my skin crawl in our samsaric world of suffering. This transformation takes place through the inside and the outside (which is really the inside).

I'm reminded of Derrick Jensen's t-shirt that features a bomb, a wrench, a spray paint can- it represents all tactics, and how a movement can be dismantled from the inside when different factions attack each other instead of a common target. I feel like that's been demonstrated on a micro level here- dismissing would be allies with insults. Maybe a gentle reeducation was called for, but insults? There's nothing to discuss when insults are flying. 

And on this question, can men be feminist, a quick search shows it's all about a community's agreement. In my circle, if you want to challenge patriarchy, you can be a feminist. I won't call myself a feminist in other circles where they have a different definition of what being a feminist means. But you can call yourself the Mickey Mouse Club if you want, and as long as you challenge patriarchy, I'm in solidarity with you.